I noticed a few weeks ago that I was nearing 1,000 published posts for this blog. I hoped the 1,000th post would be something meaningful, but knew I wouldn't force it into something special if there wasn't anything. Fortunately, there is.
So, happy 1,000, little blog. I never dreamed we'd make it here.
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This past weekend was my birthday. Every year I try to go on some kind of ride to celebrate. This year, I decided come hell or high water I was going trail riding on some of my old trails; I recently learned I could park on property on the far side of the tract of land we are now banned from traveling.
Early in the planning, I enlisted Lauren to come with me, knowing she'd ride Griffin thus giving me the option to get Q and Grif exercised at the same time, which is always a great thing.
Fortune of fortunes though, a former colleague's daughter was visiting a friend in WV from DC this past weekend and boldly reached out to me (we've never met) about "meeting the horses". Knowing Grace is in a regular riding program and has jumped things I'll never have the balls to jump (4½-foot verticals and 5½-foot-wide oxers), I threw her a curveball inquiring about riding instead of just meeting because I knew she had more than enough riding ability to tag along. As I knew she would (because what horse crazy 14-year old wouldn't!), she jumped on the offer and boom, Stan was included in the fray. (Sorry, Stan, vacation is over.)
|Thanks for making my day so awesome, ladies!
And yep, my horses are filthy #sorrynotsorry #fieldboard4lyfe #nohotwater
Sunday morning I picked up two eager teenage riding partners and headed to the barn where we tacked up my horses and tossed them in the trailer. We then trailered 5 minutes to a location where I had permission to park and gain access to my favorite old trails.
As we began, I remarked to Grace multiple times about how Q and I probably wouldn't lead much, how were working on confidence issues, and how she'd probably spook and be a mess at times. I guess Q didn't like me highlighting her weaknesses because she made a royal liar out of me on every. single. one.
And you know what? I'm so okay with that. Liar, liar, pants on fire - that's me!
LeadingAs we set out, I attempted to get either girl to lead on Griffin or Stan. However, not wholly familiar with their mounts, the terrain, or endurance conditioning, they simply couldn't keep them moving forward at a fair pace in the beginning (Stan obligated himself to a western pleasure jog and refused whole heartedly to move out of it, testing Grace, while Griffin was simply NOPEing Lauren - ah, my boys lol).
Fortunately, Q was on the same page as me regarding what was a "fair" pace and powered forward of her own accord, leading for awhile. (Of late, I let her push forward when she offers it as long as her body language is communicating that she is confident.) But then she started hesitating in the tiniest fashion, so I pulled her back and set one of the girls in the lead again. ....until Q once again, in rather short order, powered forward to lead us up the first mountain. Giggling at her insistence, I allowed her to once again motor to the front.
Q then proceeded to lead the entire way up the mountain, breaking into a canter multiple times throughout. I laughed and brought her back to a trot the first several times. However, she continued to want to press forward into a canter! Each time she remained confident and sure of herself, so as we reached the halfway point of the climb, I acquiesced her request and let her canter - and eventually hand gallop! - the rest of the way.
As we approached the end of the climb, I smiled and laughed. I called out to the girls, Lauren in particular who is very familiar with my Q struggles, "Who is this mare?! I'm keeping her!"
|What a great rider - Stan realized in this moment that he wasn't getting away with laziness on this day!
The rest of the ride continued much as the beginning with the girls leading through areas I worried Q couldn't handle confidently. Oddly enough, these areas were very few!
Q and I led for nearly every segment except the few miles we spent galloping where I held her back, refusing to push the envelope. Regardless, she did surge forward on the last gallop set, passing Stan and getting a nose in front of Griffin before I really lay down the law and set us back to my intended pace. (Though I'll admit to absolutely loving that she offered all of that power and speed while keeping the hamsters in her head where they belonged.)
Part of my love of trail riding is exploring and finding new ways to connect trails. I've got an absolutely uncanny sense of direction that has very rarely failed me in these quests. I spent years as teenager galloping willy nilly through the mountains in an attempt to get lost and never once did. For a chunk of time near the tail-end of our Sunday ride, we traversed through totally new-to-me terrain. It turns out that one of the landowners logged a few hundred acres last summer and now I've got oodles of new trails to explore. #winning
Q had been so good to this point that any concerns I had about her spooking at the beginning of the ride were totally gone, and I didn't even hesitate to strike off in the lead for this section. She struck off confidently into new territory and didn't balk once! We traveled down steep, rocky, unpredictable terrain, bushwacked a bit, climbed an equally steep and treacherous slope on the opposite side, and bushwacked one more time before connecting to a trail I knew - right where I expected we'd emerge! Boy is that ever the best feeling!
"Ha! I win. I know where I am," I remarked aloud to assuage the concerned looks I'd noticed on Lauren and Grace's faces as we trekked deeper into the new territory. They looked at one another with confusion as I said this, clearly not believing me and/or not understanding the thrill I get from connecting paths across the landscape. I shrugged, grinning, and trotted forward.
After another half-mile where Q trotted with very minimal hesitation past things that have caused her great alarm in the past, and then cantered up one more short, steep slope, we arrived back to the only section of trail we'd have to travel on twice that day. "Grace," I said turning in the saddle so my voice would carry better, "up there," I pointed up hill, "is where you jumped Stan earlier!" Wide eyes and a look of shocked recognition crossed her face as she replied, "Wow!"
From this point, we had a long downhill trot off the mountain followed by a jaunt on gravel before we arrived back at the trailer. Q led the entire way down the hill, happy ears and confident footsteps the entire way. Lauren and Grif struck out once we reached the road to lead us on home. As I felt Q deserved a leading break whether she wanted it or not! What a great problem to have, haha.
ConfidenceIn case you didn't notice, the section above used the word "confident/confidence" five times. To describe Q!! I know. I'm as shocked as you are!
But honestly, she was amazing. She struck off forward multiple times with relaxation so evident through her body. I think her lesser fitness definitely facilitated staying calm in a few situations because she was working too hard to care about much else, but still! I'll take what I can get.
I praised her lavishly throughout the ride. Any time she walked by something that would have previously caused her alarm, I praised. Any time she gave a hairy eye to something but didn't spook at, I praised. Any time she maintained forward motion despite being hesitant about something, I praised. Every time she tensed up and quickly relaxed afterward, I praised. I didn't want her to have any doubt that she was being a good girl.
I tend to be a quiet rider, so praising and vocalizing so much to my horse is new for me, but I'm really trying! And I think she really benefits from it, which doesn't surprise me because all creatures tend enjoy the affection that comes from kindness be it spoken or physical.
I think taking it slow and putting a stop to things before she has a chance to get super nervous has also helped Q tons. She's learning that she can rely on me to be a good advocate and partner. The real test will come when she's a fussbucket about something inane that I then push her through, will she rise to the challenge or devolve? Time will tell. Hopefully she'll rise to the challenge if I keep up what we're doing now!
Spooking9½ miles with >1,500 feet of climbing throughout and a solid mile or so on terrain we'd never covered before. How many times did she spook? Not once.
She was in the lead, and despite that, was a good girl. She was relaxed and confident 95% of the time. The work we've been doing lent itself beautifully toward this success, but there were absolutely other contributing factors.
Contributing factor #1: We hauled away from home. Granted, we literally bopped just over the hill, but still. It wasn't home. All three horses identified quickly that they knew where home was in relation to the trails, but the act of hauling "away from home" still worked its magic. Q has historically been much easier to ride away from home, and this was not an exception to that. I'll take it!
Contributing factor #2: Q was in her S-hack instead of a bit. She's much happier in her hackamore than a bit. Always has been. She goes well enough in a bit, but there is an almost imperceptible shift in her when she's in the hackamore. I only notice it because I know her so well after 6 years together. For lack of a better way to describe it, I think she feels a little claustrophobic with the bit. I'm definitely not taking it away from our toolbox - especially for work at home - but I will continue to be mindful about my decision to have her in her hack or a bit when we're on trail.
Contributing factor #3: Buddies. She had friends on this ride who were SUPER chill throughout. She was never rewarded for being nervous because neither Grif nor Stan rose to the occasion when she tried to fuss. "DANGER!" Q tried to squeak out. *blank stare, ear flick* Grif and Stan replied each time. Can't argue much with that, haha.
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The whole ride was AMAZING. The weather was beautiful, the horses were very well behaved, and the girls had a freaking blast. I was on Cloud 9 from the get-go at the opportunity to be back on my trails! Q's behavior was the icing on the cake to a really wonderful day.
I still don't have any plans for Q and I competition-wise for the year, but damn am I excited to see where life takes us!